Deputy Captured On Video Kicking Suspect In The Head During Arrest Charged

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Corie Smith has been charged by the district attorney’s office for his mistreatment of a suspect he took into custody on June 16.
Smith, aged 28 and a five-year member of the department who in 2020 was credited with two separate life-saving actions while on duty in 2020, has been charged with one felony count of assault under the color of authority, stemming from his encounter with Willie C. Jones in Victorville late last spring.
Jones, 32, was riding alone on a motorcycle around 40 minutes past midnight on June 16 in the area of Seventh and Lincoln streets in Victorville. He was observed by a deputy operating the motorbike in what the department later described as “a flagrantly dangerous manner.” Jones failed to comply with an attempt to pull him over. Accelerating to an excessive speed, he ran multiple traffic signals, entered the northbound lanes of Interstate 15 in the opposite direction and almost collided head-on into several vehicles. A radio dispatch for assistance from the pursuing patrol deputy went out.
Thereafter, Jones exited the freeway in the vicinity of Roy Rogers Drive/La Paz Avenue, then headed toward the Valley Hi Toyota Dealership, located on Valley Center Drive. He dropped his bike at the side of the road behind the dealership and fled onto the dealership’s lot on foot. There, for a time, he hid beneath the undercarriage of a vehicle.
Surveillance footage of the dealership grounds, which has since been obtained by the Sentinel, shows what appears to be a lot lit by overhead lights with ten vehicles in the video’s range of field. There is no immediate activity, but roughly five seconds into the video, Jones can be seen crawling out from underneath what is either a black or dark-colored pickup truck. Crouching down, he is seen creeping away, then standing upright and assuming a casual attitude, but looking back in the direction from which he came. At 37 seconds into the video, Deputy Smith, running, comes into the camera’s field of view from the direction in which Jones was looking.
At that point, Jones begins walking, at first nonchalantly, back in the direction from which he came as if to see if he can simply pass himself off as a pedestrian walking through the lot. When Smith immediately veered in his direction, however, Jones raised his hands in a show of surrender. Smith, at that point having slowed to a walk and carrying what appears to be either a lit flashlight or a laser source, comes toward Jones.
In the video obtained by the Sentinel, there is no sound, and it is not possible to discern the verbal exchanges that took place.
At 42 seconds into the video, Jones begins to bend down and at 44 seconds into the video he is on his knees with his hands touching the ground, and he appears to be heading into a prone position. At 46 seconds, Jones’ hips are flat on the ground as are his forearms, with his neck and head arched up, just as Smith begins a powerwalk and rather gratuitously, using his right foot, kicks Jones in the head with considerable force. Smith then shines the light he is holding on Jones, and at 48 seconds into the video, kicks him in the head once more, this time somewhat less forcefully.
Jones, whose position on the ground shifted to his right somewhat because of the violence of the kicks, is seen laying completely prone, with his head on the pavement. Smith then bends down and seizes Jones’ left arm at the 51 second point and bends it up to take it behind Jones and begin handcuffing him. Smith has bent Jones’ right arm back to fully effectuate the handcuffing at 53 seconds, when another deputy, running, comes into the video’s frame of view. That deputy assists Smith and at one minute and seven seconds into the video, a third deputy arrives. A fourth deputy arrives at the 1:34 mark and then a fifth deputy four seconds later. From that point on, Jones’ arrest is carried out with no further incident on the video, and Jones is led away.
The violence exhibited against Jones during the arrest came two weeks and one-and-one-half days after Sheriff’s Sergeant Dominic Vaca was killed in Yucca Valley in broad daylight during the noon hour on May 31, at the end of an incident in which deputies there sought to make a traffic stop of another motorcyclist, Bilal Winston Shabazz, for riding a motorcycle without a license plate. Like Jones, Shabazz fled and when Vaca approached him, Shabazz, who was armed, shot and killed him. Shabazz was himself mortally wounded by other deputies at the Yucca Valley scene.
Smith had been a sheriff’s deputy for five years and two months at the time of the June 16 incident.
After the video became publicly available and was broadcast nationally in extended form by TMZ, a syndicated television program, and was mounted by YouTube in an abbreviated form which included both of Smith’s kicks to Jones’ head, action to suspend Smith was taken by the sheriff’s department.
Then-Undersheriff Shannon Dicus in a video in which he spoke on behalf of then-Sheriff John McMahon released by the department before Smith was publicly identified, said, “This video came to our attention after a Victorville watch commander was contacted by the security company that monitors the parking lot where this incident occurred. The watch commander reviewed the video and immediately determined the deputy’s actions were disturbing. The watch commander notified the commander of the station. I want to [assure] the community it is our expectation that deputies respond to any incident professionally and in a manner that’s consistent with their training.”
Dicus, who in July succeeded McMahon as county sheriff, in the video further stated, “I want to [assure] the citizens of San Bernardino County, the sheriff and I are aware of the alarming video depicting a deputy kicking a suspect. We know the community’s trust is the platform which enables us to do our jobs. The deputy involved in this incident was immediately taken off duty and placed on administrative leave. A criminal investigation is being conducted. This investigation will be submitted to the district attorney. Subsequently, an administrative investigation will also be initiated to allow for the appropriate employment actions to be taken.”
As of this week, when the charges were filed against Smith, he was still a member of the department and on the county payroll, though not back at work. For reasons the department did not disclose, the criminal and internal departmental investigation relating to Smith and his action was halted immediately after Dicus’s video was issued. It is believed that the department’s command echelon was stood off through intercession on Smith’s behalf by the union representing the department’s deputies, the Safety Employees Benefit Association. With the matter now being revived by the district attorney’s office’s filing against Smith, the department announced it is at present ready to “conduct an internal investigation” that will take into consideration “employment issues consistent with labor law and the Peace Officer Bill of Rights.”
Smith’s action in the early morning of June 16 has presented a thorny challenge to Dicus in the first months of his tenure as sheriff. Dicus has sought, in his words uttered during the video made in response to the exposition of the treatment of Jones displayed across the Worldwide Web, to impress on the public that “We take these matters seriously, and want to assure you a thorough investigation will be conducted. It’s unfortunate when incidents like these occur, because it causes turmoil within our communities and equally amongst our deputies who pride themselves on providing professional service.”
Many of Dicus’s deputies, however, feel that since they are being called upon to apprehend oftentimes dangerous criminals and must do so during fast-paced encounters in the field under unpredictable circumstances where their lives may be at stake, that they should have the latitude to deal harshly and even brutally with those they are encountering, and that the sheriff, as their employer who has placed them into these circumstances, should have their backs.
There is an indication that the department sought to shield Smith from prosecution by arranging to quiet Jones in the aftermath of the video of him being kicked in the head twice going viral.
On July 2, Jones, who said he was knocked unconscious by one or both of the kicks and was not mentally alert after he was jailed, maintained that while he was yet in custody members of the sheriff’s department offered him $4,000 in return for signing a waiver by which he committed to not sue the county for excessive force. This was done, Jones said, while he was in the process of being transported from the hospital where he had undergone treatment for the injuries he sustained during his arrest and custody within the sheriff’s jail system before he had posted bail and had an opportunity to consult with a lawyer. He signed the waiver and release of liability form, he said, though he did not understand the document or its implication. Jones related that he was “coerced” into affixing his signature on the waiver. He said he had not cashed the check presented to him. He is now represented by attorney Zulu Ali, and has lodged a $5 million claim against Smith, McMahon, Dicus, the sheriff’s department and the county.
One of Smith’s colleagues told the Sentinel that Smith’s action on June 16 was “atypical” of the deputy he knew and had worked with previously, and was likely a manifestation of the events surrounding the arrest, including the chase and the recent slaying of Vaca.
Smith began with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in April 2016, and has been assigned to the Victorville Sheriff’s Station since September 2017.
Earlier this year, the department presented Deputy Smith with two lifesaving awards. One of those pertained to an incident on August 26, 2020, when he responded to a call and found a two-year-old lying in a pool of blood and bleeding profusely from multiple stab wounds in his chest and abdomen. Smith used his fingers to plug the wounds to stem the bleeding until medical help arrived. The child survived. On July 11, 2020, Smith responded to a call of a woman having a medical emergency. Upon arrival, he found an unresponsive woman, with three young children in a car with the engine running inside a garage in which the temperature exceeded 140 degrees. Smith was credited with saving the lives of the children.
-Mark Gutglueck

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